Safely converting outdoor restaurant spaces to dining areas

Restaurant owners have had to convert outdoor sidewalks, patios, and parking lots for outdoor dining. Here are things to keep in mind when converting a restaurant’s outdoor space into temporary dining areas.

  • Ensure appropriate protection from vehicle and sidewalk traffic is in place using highly visible barriers and signage. Temporary barriers designed for this purpose are preferred. Careful assessment should be performed to assure dining areas are not created in hazardous areas such as high-vehicle traffic areas with low visibility (including corners or high vegetation areas).

  • Temporary dining spaces should be properly designed to reduce the potential for slips and falls. Walking surfaces should be properly secured, level, and free of slip and fall hazards or debris. Avoid the use of loose surface material (pavers, crushed stone, etc.). Steps up/down should be properly marked and highly visible using signage and high visibility markers such as brightly colored paint. Dining furniture should be placed at an appropriate distance from elevations (such as curbs).

  • Adequate lighting should be in place in all customer areas to provide clear visibility for walking areas to help prevent slips/trips/falls. Assure wires from temporary lighting are properly guarded to prevent tripping. Assure that temporary lighting is properly secured against tipping or falling, to reduce the potential for injury to staff or patrons.

  • Maintain a clear path of pedestrian travel near public sidewalks and restaurant walkways. Designated entrance and exit pathways should be established in customer areas to help facilitate social distancing.

  • Keep dining areas 6’ from corners, crosswalks, curbs, bus shelters, and public seating to facilitate social distancing and to help reduce slip/trip/fall exposures. Do not block public sidewalks, exit doors, or access to fire hydrants.

  • Ensure seating and tables do not encroach on public accessibility. There should be 36” of space to allow for wheelchair passage.

  • Ensure slip/trip/fall hazards are mitigated with inspections occurring regularly and immediate corrective action is taken when needed.

  • Furniture used by patrons should be carefully selected to assure it is appropriate for the space used, with considerations for stability, strength, and resistance to wear and tear, to help reduce the potential for customer injury. Furniture should also be easy to clean and sanitize (avoiding things such as absorbent materials) and regularly inspected for damage.

  • Umbrellas, temporary awnings/coverings, and tents should be properly secured/anchored and free of damage to prevent injury. Protocols should be in place to remove and secure these items during weather events such as high wind/storms.

  • 6-ft social distancing parameters, ABC (alcohol and beverage control), ADA-compliance, food safety & sanitation, and other regulations should be followed by state and federal regulations.

  • Post signage for guidance to customers on restaurant protocols, such as exit and entrance points, seating requirements, mask requirements, waiting area, and ordering protocols.

  • Create designated sanitization stations at entrances and exits, as well as in dining areas. Outdoor handwashing stations are preferred.

  • To help reduce the potential for a fire, do not use open flames (such as candles, ‘tiki’ torches, etc.) in outdoor dining areas.

Restaurants do not have to go it alone. Owners can seek the help of their insurance advisor and their state and local governments to determine what actions they need to take to ensure their outdoor dining areas runs smoothly.

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